The Washington Pioneer and First Citizens Certificates
The Pioneer Certificate project was begun to celebrate the centennial of Washington statehood in 1989. The initial certificates were issued to applicants who could prove their ancestors were in Washington Territory prior to its admission to the Union. These descendants' names, are printed in a three volume set of books entitled Washington Pioneers. Since the last book was printed more people have applied and so a CD was made with all the people that applied. Also the index of all the names is on the WSGS website.
Pioneer Certificates are still being issued to descendants that can prove that their ancestor was in Washington by November 11, 1889. First Citizens certificates are available to descendants of those that arrived before December 31, 1900.
To obtain Either of these certificates, an applicant must prove that their ancestor was within the borders of present-day Washington State before the specified date. Some suggestions for how you can proceed follow.
Proving Your Ancestor in Washington
After you have searched home sources for deeds, bibles, marriage certificates, letters, etc. that will show your ancestor's presence and your own line of descent, you can begin to look at other resources in county records or in libraries.
A good place to begin is the website maintained by the Washington State Genealogical Society.
( http://www.wasgs.org ) Click on Pioneer Certificates for the application for the certificates. Another project is the Washington State Genealogical Resource Guide. Click on Washington Research and then Resource Guides. The Resource Guides provide a brief background on each county along with listing of sources for each county. Also listed on this website are local genealogical societies throughout the state. Many societies have their own websites with more resources (such as cemetery, marriage, and census records) for that county. Click on Washington Research for a list of libraries, societies, etc. where you can find info. Most of these are linked to the named source.
A particularly useful site is the Washington State Digital Archives (http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/home ) , a project by the Secretary of State. Here you can search the digital archives by name or county. Included in this collection are over 35 million records: census (territorial census are especially useful to prove residence prior to statehood), land, and other early records such as the Election Returns from Washington Territory's First Election in 1854 and Frontier Justice. They also have marriage records and early city directories. They are adding new materials all the time so be sure to check back often, and check the Secretary of State website for other and new projects.
Early local newspapers are a place to look when your ancestors do not show up in county records. The Washington State Library has the most complete collection of state newspapers but each local library will probably have the ones for their area. The Territorial Newspaper Index is available on microfilm in many libraries and archives branches. The State Digital Archives also has a complete collection of territorial censuses online as well as many early city directories, and other sources. Here is a website for Online Historic Newspapers and Directories: https://sites.google.com/site/onlinenewspapersite/Home
Universities have specialized resources in their archives and libraries that may contain information not found in any other location. So do the federal (Seattle NARA branch) and state archives branches have unique items.
Most public libraries and historical societies maintain pamphlet files and other materials on people and events from their own local area. These may even be original Records such as diaries and journals that are not indexed or listed anywhere. If you cannot travel to the area, check with the local genealogical society or library to see if someone in the area will do your research for a nominal fee or even free. These institutions also may have an index to the local newspaper or histories. Often there are free or inexpensive workshops on how to find material in the local area sponsored by genealogical societies, libraries, museums or historical groups.
Do not let the fact that you do not have a computer or are inexperienced at using the online resources. Libraries everywhere have internet access and may even subscribe to specialized databases such as Ancestry.com and Heritage Quest online. Many have staff that are very knowledgeable and can provide you with expert guidance. Your local Family Search Center also subscribes to all the popular paid databases.
Joining a local genealogical or historical society in the area where you live or one where your ancestor resided may lead you to other resources and paths for locating information. You may discover a wealth of material that will make your ancestor “come alive” or even develop an interest in the history of the region where your ancestor lived or in genealogy. This could lead to a hobby that you enjoy or a volunteer activity to preserve and share materials.